Although it wasn’t all that long ago that Colombia came with a big warning sign attached and was best avoided, South America’s most northerly country has turned itself around to become one of the continent’s top tourist destinations. Colombia is one of the most biodiverse destinations on earth due to its incredible variety of habitats, which range from rainforests and savannahs to deserts and wetlands. It harbours the largest number of amphibians and terrestrial mammals in the world, including jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, spectacled bears and sloths. It is also fantastic for birdwatching, with more than 1,900 bird species, 70 of which are endemic.
Bogota, the capital, sits right in the middle, high up in the Andes. Although it might not be quite as charming as Colombia’s most famous city, Cartagena, Bogota is nevertheless home to a dizzying array of museums, churches, colonial mansions and top end restaurants which make it well worth spending a night or two here. You can take a day trip from the city to the astonishing Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, carved underground in a still functioning salt mine, or continue a little further to the charming village of Villa de Leyva. With scarcely a modern building in site and boasting one of the largest cobbled-stoned squares in South America this village where time stands still is a great place to see a snap shot of historical Colombia preserved in its entirety.
An easy 45 minute flight west of Bogota, Colombia’s coffee region is a must. Think rolling hillsides, plunging valleys, quaint villages, friendly coffee farmers and beautiful haciendas. With a tour of one of the regions coffee plantations, you will see the whole process from seedling to coffee cup and every part in between.
Medellin, Colombia’s second city, once the most dangerous city in the world thanks to Pablo Escobar’s infamous drug cartel, has risen above its bad reputation and is no longer a place to avoid. Art enthusiasts can enjoy the works of Medellin born sculptor Fernando Botero which adorn park and public plazas, or head up on the cable cart for a birds eye view of the sprawling city. August sees the annual ‘Feria de las Flores’ with a procession of flower growers, music and dance all adding to an amazing carnival atmosphere.
Moving up to the Caribbean coast in the eastern part of Colombia, the world’s highest coastal mountain range forms Tayrona National Park. A large indigenous population from different tribes lives in the area, and visitors can expect jungle walks and pristine beaches in equal measures, making it the ideal spot for those who can’t decide between relaxing in the sun and something a little more adventurous. Accommodation options in the area are limited, but the traditionally styled, luxury huts overlooking the Caribbean Sea are unbeatable.
Last, but by no means least, Colombia’s Caribbean coast is also home to the delightful city of Cartagena, undeniably a highlight of any trip to the country. Surrounded by a defensive wall originally built to keep out unwelcome pirates, Cartagena exhibits some of the best preserved colonial architecture in all of South America and its rich history, diverse culture and laid-back Caribbean charm absorb every visitor. Colourful houses, balconies overflowing with flowers and narrow cobbled streets make the city absurdly photogenic, while away from the historic centre, Castillo San Felipe and El Convento de La Popa are two of Cartagena’s most spectacular sites.
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